Leishman and Smith pose with their caddies and Australian captain Ian Baker-Finch – Photo IGF
Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman take to the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama in the north of Tokyo this week, both considered medal chances, and both delighted to be representing their country.
Both players faced the assembled media today as they prepared for their Olympic debuts.
Smith was outside the world’s top 175 when golf made a return to the Olympics in Rio in 2016 but he is now Australia’s highest ranked male player at number 28 in the world with Leishman now number 35 in the world from his position around 50th in 2016, although he made himself unavailable for family reasons back then.
Leishman gained his place in the field this year after Adam Scott declined the opportunity, the Queenslander just ahead of Leishman in world ranking when the teams were chosen although that is now reversed.
“Obviously very excited to be here,” said Leishman. “To represent your country is a huge honour and I know we’re both very proud to be wearing this uniform.
“The course looks great out there. It’s in unbelievable condition and I’m sure it will only get more difficult as the week goes on and yeah we’re excited to be here.”
Smith echoed Leishman’s thoughts.
“I mean, yeah, growing up you really never think that you’re going to wear the Olympic uniform with the coat of arms on it,” said the Queenslander. “It’s pretty special. Yeah, I mean, it’s just going to be an awesome experience. Leish and I get on great. We’re going to have great week off the course and hopefully a great one on the course as well. The course is in great shape and I can’t wait for Thursday.”
Both players have mixed form of late although Leishman’s third place finish two starts ago in Hartford before a missed cut at the Open Championship will give him some heart.
When asked where a gold medal at the Olympics would rate compared to a major title Leishman responded; “As a golfer, I we didn’t grow up thinking we would have a chance to win a medal, so I think as time goes on, this is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. But this is a big deal. I mean, I think it would be, if it wasn’t equal to a major, it would be a very, very, very close second.”
Both players are staying outside of the Olympic Village but that is based on convenience and logistics rather than not wanting to be at the village.
“We’re staying close by in a hotel,” said Leishman. The village is, we have been told, a two-hour drive from the golf course if the traffic is not perfect. With our bodies, it’s not ideal to sit in a car for a couple of hours beforehand.
“So that was our thinking behind that, try and prepare like it was a major. Yeah, I think I would love to stay at the Olympic village, but it just wasn’t as convenient as we maybe would have liked this year.”
Both are impressed with the Kasumigaseki Country Club, Smith in particular enthusing over his liking for golf in Japan.
“I’ve never played a bad golf course in Japan. They’re always in such pristine condition. The greens out there are amazing. Hopefully the rain holds off and it’s able to get a little firmer and faster for us. I know we both like that. But nonetheless I’m sure it will be a great course.”
Leishman also was excited about what lay ahead. “I really like the golf course. It seems like every bunker has been put there for a reason. They’re all in play.
“I think if you are hitting your irons well I think there will be an opportunity for a lot of birdies. But on the other hand, if you’re just a little bit off you’re going to have some really difficult putts for birdies and tough 2-putts. So I think there’s going to be a fairly big spread in scores.
“I think it’s a great venue for the Olympic golf and it’s just a pity that we can’t have crowds here because I think it would be really special. I know how good it is to play in front of the Japanese fans and how much they love their golf.
“And I believe I’ve been paired with Hideki (Matsuyama), so it’s going to be a very different atmosphere than what it would have been like if we did have fans. But, no, it’s going to be a special week no matter what. I’m excited about it.”
Adding to his excitement is the prospect of representing Australia in a sport where such representation is not the norm.
“I think as Australians playing on the PGA TOUR in a way we do represent our country every week,” added the Victorian. “That’s the way I feel. Just this week where we’re wearing the green and gold and we have got Australia on our hats and shirts, which is an, I think adds a bit more to the prestige, I think.
“And I’m certainly very proud to call myself an Olympian now and I know Cam is as well. So, yeah, like I said, I feel like we do represent Australia every week, but this is just really, really special.”
The event gets under way on Thursday 29th and will be played over 72 holes, ending on Sunday.